Pre-K Counts in Pennsylvania for Youngsters’
Early School Success:
Authentic Outcomes for an Innovative Prevention and Promotion Initiative
Research Results of SPECS for Pre–K Counts:
An Independent Authentic Program Evaluation
Research Initiative (2005-2009)
2009 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
HOW IT STARTED
• School District-Community Early Childhood
Overview: Pre-K Counts in Pennsylvania: Program Partnerships
PKC--A State-Wide “Community” Success Story • Integration of the Pre-K “System”: Head Start,
Many young children start kindergarten and first grade with big Early Intervention, and Child Care
smiles and high hopes. Yet, too many other children see those • Collaborative School-Community Leadership
hopes dim as they slip farther beyond their classmates. The social • Keystone Stars Program Quality Standards
costs—in human and financial terms—seem insurmountable.
• Ongoing Mentoring to Improve Quality of Teaching
It doesn’t have to be that way. Pre-K Counts in Pennsylvania, and Care
a unique, public-private collaboration between philanthropies,
• Creative Parent Participation Options
state government, and innovative school district-community
partnerships across 21 school districts is proving what national • Collaborative Agreements with Human Service Agencies
research has shown elsewhere: early learning in quality preschool • Use of the Pennsylvania Early Learning Standards
settings is the key to helping all children succeed—now and in (PAELS) as Curricular Benchmarks for Early School Success
the future. • Ongoing Formative Program Evaluation and Feedback
This executive summary highlights the major initial outcomes to Focus Instruction and Communication
of a 3-year research study of over 10,000 children and their PKC was also based upon the scientific knowledge that children of
programs across the first 21 school district-community poverty experience progressive declines in their developmental
partnerships funded under the public-private consortium of rate when they are not afforded the benefits of quality early
Pre-K Counts between 2005 and 2008. Where fully implemented learning experiences which occur in preschool; this lack of critical
as intended, the PKC model shows impressive and promising early experience occurs at a particularly sensitive period in the
results. Perhaps, most importantly, PKC children are ready to growth of their brain-behavior interconnections. Because of these
succeed in kindergarten and beyond. deprivations, at the age for kindergarten and first grade, their
deficits in early learning place them 1.5 years behind their more
What Is Pre-K Counts in Pennsylvania? advantaged peers (Figure 1)
Pre-K Counts has been a unique public-private partnership
among philanthropies and state government departments Who Are the Children, Families, and Programs in Pre-K Counts?
through the Office of Child Development and Early Learning
• 21 PKC school-community partnerships across
(OCDEL), Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, begun in 2004.
Pennsylvania (see last page list)
Pre-K Counts sought to establish a consortium of business, cor- • 10,002 children, ages 3-6 years; average age = 4.3 years
porate, foundation, school, and community leaders to stimulate
the development of an early care and education network which • Ethnic representation: Caucasians, African-Americans,
would expand quality options; infuse education into child care Hispanics, Asians, Native Hawaiian, Alaska Native,
American Indian, and Multi-ethnic categories
routines; set standards for quality, professional development,
and early learning; and serve as a catalyst to create and unify a • 1113 teachers in 489 classrooms across PA
“system” for prevention and care for all young children.
What Elements Distinguish a Pre-K Counts Program? Figure 1: Graph of Research-based
Developmental Declines for High-risk
Ramey and Ramey (1998) outlined the common factors in u
successful and effective early childhood intervention program Children Not In Preschool
research initiatives in the US over the past 30 years.
Pre-K Counts applied these evidence-based factors as guides
in their funding proposal requirements to the grantees. 120
Mean Normative Scores
1 2 3 4 5 6
Age In Years
2009 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
WHAT WE DID
How Do the SPECS Authentic Program Evaluation
Research Methods Work in Pre-K Counts?
SPECS: Scaling Progress in Early Childhood Settings is a
core program of the Early Childhood Partnerships program
(www.earlychildhoodpartnerships.org) of the University of
Pittsburgh and affiliated with Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
SPECS represents a field-validated and evidence-based
approach in longitudinal studies over 15 years for conducting
program evaluation research in community-based early
childhood intervention classrooms, settings, and routines which
is developmentally-appropriate for young children. SPECS uses What Were the Indicators for Children’s Success
an Authentic Assessment approach (Bagnato, 2002; 2007) which
is required by national professional organizations for use in the in Pre-K Counts?
field and is part of quality professional standards by the National
Association for the Education of Young Children—NAEYC; and • Acquisition of essential early school success competen-
the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) of the Council for cies in the PA Early Learning Standards (PAELS)
Exceptional Children. • Individual performances during instructional
engagement in PKC outpace maturational expectancies.
Within Pre-K Counts, SPECS methods consisted of : • Longer engagement in program = better outcomes
• Standardized observations of ongoing child behavior • Higher quality programs produce better outcomes than
in everyday routines rather than “table-top” testing” lower quality programs
• Reliable and valid observations by teachers and other • PKC achievement indices match or exceed national
caregivers research indices
• Teacher training for reliable and valid observations • Attainment of educationally important “functional”
• Linkage of assessment and instruction through teacher benchmarks of measurable progress (e.g., reductions
feedback for individual learning plans special education placements; movement from delay
• Alignment of curricular content, state and federal to non-delay classifications; increases in social skills with
standards, & expected outcomes reductions in challenging social behaviors; >80% attain
PAELS; exceeding national normative and reference
• Individual changes in each child’s developmental indicators)
• Mentoring improves program quality
• Longitudinal, repeated measures, multivariate regresion
design to examine the interrelationship among • Innovative school-community “partnership elements” had
mentoring, partnership elements, program quality and differential outcomes.
instruction, time-in-intervention, and children’s early
school success. WHAT WE FOUND
What Were the “Core” Mandates & Research Questions OUTCOME 1: High-Risk Preschool Children Beat the Odds and
Posed by Stakeholders for SPECS ? Succeeded in PKC by Gaining Critical Early Learning Competencies.
• No exclusion of vulnerable preschoolers from PKC for
research purposes—ethical design Did vulnerable 3-year old children benefit
from PKC programs?
• Is participation in Pre-K Counts associated with children’s
gains in important functional competencies to improve • Nearly 2000 3-year olds showed strong growth during
their early school success? (Did it work?) their first year of PKC--a sensitive developmental period
• What programmatic elements of Pre-K Counts are when they were most vulnerable for continuing
associated with children’s success? (Why did it work?) developmental problems.
• At-risk or delayed 3-year olds at entry improved toward
typical rates of development at exit
• All ethnic groups made gains, especially in spoken
language, pre-reading, numbers, classroom behavior, and
daily living skills.
• 3-year olds with the longest PKC participation--until
transition to kindergarten—showed the strongest gains
in early learning skills.
How much did children who were at-risk or delayed Figure 2: Risk Status at Entry to PKC
in development benefit from PKC?
• Nearly 20% more children are performing in the typical
range of functioning after participating in PKC
(Figures 2 & 3)
• Greater than 2 of every 3 children with developmental
delays attained a low average to average level of
performance after participating in PKC.
• Children at-risk and with developmental delays and 12% 67%
serious problems in social and self-control behaviors at
entry showed significant gains in acquiring age-expected
skills for kindergarten at exit.
How well did all preschool children benefit from PKC? DELAYED
• 10,000 high-risk and vulnerable preschool children
showed significant gains in development and early Figure 3: Risk Status at Exit (K-Transition) from PKC
learning skills in spoken language, reading, writing, math,
classroom behavior, and daily living skills toward average
(age-expected) and above average performance
• Actual developmental progress rates after participation 8%
in PKC exceeded childrens’ expected maturational rates
before participation in PKC. 6%
• Developmental progress rates in some skill areas
(spoken language, reading, and daily living skills)
exceeded the statistical indices established in national
early childhood intervention studies.
• Preschoolers with longest PKC participation--until 86%
transition to kindergarten—showed the strongest gains TYPICAL
in early learning skills.
OUTCOME 2: Improved Program Quality Promoted Children’s
Early School Success
Figure 4: Comparative Child Outcomes for Low
How much time engaged in a PKC program did it take (1–2 Stars) vs High (3–4 Stars) Quality PKC Programs
for vulnerable children to show functional progress?
• Children participated in PKC for varying lengths of time
• Initial functional progress was achieved only after the 105
average child spent at least 6.4 months in PKC
Did program quality nurture the success of PKC children?
• PKC programs made significant improvements in their
• Program quality was partly responsible for children’s
reading, writing, and math competencies at K-transition
• Children in high quality programs gained significantly Language Reading Math Behavior Living Overall
more than children in low quality programs (Figure 4)
Low Quality High Quality
2009 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Figure 5: PKC Child Reading and Math Competencies
vs. National Norm Group at K-Transition Age
OUTCOME 3: Ongoing Mentoring Improved Teaching
and Program Quality 7.5
• Variety of mentoring strategies used by coaches was
partly responsible for improvements in teaching quality
which improved children’s language and math 0
competencies at K-transition PKC at Transition National PKC at Transition National
Reading Norms Math Norms
4 years old
OUTCOME 4: Children in PKC Programs Beat Local 4.5 years old 5 years old
and National Norms to Achieve Success at
Figure 6: Historical School District Special Education
Kindergarten Transition Placement Rate vs. PKC Rate at K-Transition
Are PKC children “ready” for kindergarten?
• Nearly 7000 high-risk PKC children exceeded expected 18.0%
competencies in spoken language, math, writing, and
classroom behavior competency at transition and 13.5%
entry into kindergarten.
• Overall, 80% of PKC children met critical early school
success competencies in the Pennsylvania Early Learning 9.0%
Standards (PAELS) at transition to kindergarten (Table 1).
• The gains of 5-year old PKC children exceeded the
kindergarten transition skills of age peers on a nationally
standardized measure of early learning in spoken
language, reading, math, classroom behavior, and daily 2.40%
living skills (Figures 5). 0%
• PKC children dramatically reduced the historical
School District Special PKC Projected Rate
special education placement rates in their school Education Rate
districts (Figure 6).
Speci c Competency % Attained
Demonstrate initiative and curiosity 85
Develop and expand listening and understanding skills 80
Communicate ideas, experiences and feeling for a varety of purposes 87
Comprehend information from written and oral stories and texts
Develop increasing understanding of letter knowledge 76
Table 1: Critical PAELS
Learn about numbers, numerical representation, and simple numerical operations 73 Competencies Attained by
Develop self-regulation 81 PKC Children
WHAT IT MEANS
OUTCOME 5: Innovative School-Community Partnership Overarching Conclusions Can Be Drawn from
Models Nurtured Child and Program Success the Results of PKC
• Specific partnership elements (e.g., focus on quality) • Young high-risk children showed accelerated early
supported PKC program’s capacity to foster children’s learning progress.
early school success.
• Young children with delays and challenging behaviors
• Direct Instruction (DI) add-on to a Developmentally- improved equally.
Appropriate (DAP) curriculum to reduce developmental
• Young children learned critical competencies for early
delay and early school success in reading at 4KIDS in
school success and beat local historical and national
Braddock, Heritage Community Initiatives, Inc. affiliated
with the Woodland Hills School District PKC.
(www.HeritageCommunityInitiatives.org) • Vulnerable young children beat the odds and succeeded.
• Innovative HealthyCHILD developmental healthcare • Individualized programs helped children to succeed.
supports in collaboration with University of Pittsburgh/ • Mentored programs improved quality and teaching
Children’s Hospital to help teachers in Pittsburgh Public which promoted child success.
Schools PKC and Woodland Hills to build critical social
and self – control skills for children through direct in- • Standards for children and professional practices served
classroom mentoring. to focus and guide teaching and expected outcomes
• Child care provider training and credential at high school
• School-community collaborations and leadership were
graduation for students in the Tussey Mountain PKC
often innovative, effective, and value-added.
• Tyrone School District PKC central “community campus”
model for early care and education integrated in the
setting with the primary grades
Simply, Pre-K Counts
• Pittsburgh Public Schools fully inclusive and integrated
in Pennsylvania works!
ECE system with Pre-K, Head Start, and early intervention Prevention works!
2009 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
There Are “Lessons Learned” from PKC to Enhance
Future Policies, Professional Practices, and Research
in PA and the US.
• Ask “what about PKC works?” Stop asking “can PKC work?” • Maximize the participation of Early Head Start and Head
Start as the foundation for PKC in the future
• Ensure funding for future independent research to
analyze the sustained success of PKC children into the • Apply and research the federally mandated “response-to-
primary grades (K-5th). intervention” (RTI) framework into Pre-K to ensure
a graduated continuum of prevention-intervention
• Improve and validate the Keystone Stars process by supports which link regular and special education and
implementing a uniform, evidence-based mentoring other human services
model for coaches and teachers.
• Connect PKC to new federal education mandates
• Apply PKC research data to help prospective PKC
programs make strategic decisions about their unique • Re-evaluate to improve the Early Learning Network (ELN)
program designs measurement and database system and its measures of
children and contexts
• Mandate that future PKC partnerships embrace all ECI
community partner agencies in inclusive settings, • Enhance the process, training, and reliability/validity of
particularly for children with challenging behaviors and the Work Sampling System (WSS) for PKC purposes
The SPECS team is privileged to work with remarkable people across Pennsylvania’s Pre-K Counts programs. The school-community
partnerships showed creativity. Teachers, administrators, and parents inspired with their consent, devotion and willingness to participate
in the program and the research. Children showed a joy and eagerness to learn. Business, corporate, foundation, and government lead-
ers have our respect for their vision and their drive for high quality early care and education programs. Most of all, we are humbled to
work, then and now, with individual school and community leaders in both urban and rural settings who have shown unwavering
ingenuity, persistence, and commitment to their unique visions for PKC in their own communities. PKC and the quality of the SPECS
research would have been impossible without the unique talents of these partners:
Bellefonte Area School District Harrisburg School District Early School District of Lancaster
Elaine Cutler Donna Wennerholt
Susan Seely Debbie W. Reuvenny
School District of Philadelphia
Bethlehem Area School District Huntingdon Area School and
Mount Union School Districts
Marilee Ostman Brook Sawyer and Pip Campbell
Tricia Carrasco Mary Kay Justice
Scranton School District
McKeesport Area School District
City of Erie School District Patricia J. Scales Elaine Errico
Patrick Conley and Kathryn Kwiatkowski Southern Tioga School District
Colleen Maci Morrisville Borough, Bristol Borough,
and Bristol Township School Districts
Derry Area School District Tussey Mountain School District
Donna Witherspoon Kathy Lazor
New Kensington-Arnold School District
Greenville Area School and Commodore Tyrone Area School District
Perry School Districts Thomas J. Wilczek
Ruth Carson Reneé Jamison
Nancy Castor and Barbara Patton Melissa Russell
Pittsburgh Public Schools
Harmony Area School District Wilkinsburg Borough School District
Scott E. King Karen Payne
Grace Damiano Michelle Agatston and Marie Hayes
Pottstown School District
Woodland Hills School District
Mary Rieck Roslynne Wilson
Cyndi McAleer, Cathryn Lehman, and Candace
SPECS Team Members:
Suzanne Korkus, BS--Manager
Jennifer Salaway, Ph.D.—Manager
Candace Hawthorne, Ph.D.
Gina Oddi, MS
Antonio Fevola, Ph.D.
Dr. Bagnato and his Early Childhood Partnerships team Kawa Shwaish, BS
received the following distinguished research and service Hsiang Yeh-Ho, Ph.D.
Carol Whitacre, BS
awards for the quality, impact, and value of their service Eileen McKeating-Esterle, MS
and research work with community partners across t Smith-Jones, Ph.D.
Cathryn Lehman, MS
Pennsylvania and the tri-state region since 1994; Margie Matesa, MS
over 75 community partners provided the nomination Philippa Campbell, Ph.D.
Brook Sawyer, Ph.D.
for these awards :
Hoi Suen, Ed.D
2001 University of Pittsburgh Chancellor’s Distinguished Professor
Distinguished Public Service Award College of Education
Educational Psychology Program
2008 Penn State University Alumni Penn State
Excellence in Education Award
Qiong Wu, M.S., (ABD)
2009 Official Appointment to the Center on Population and Development Studies,
Pennsylvania Early Learning Council School of Public Health
by Governor Rendell Harvard University
Sto-Rox East Liberty Highlands South Side Hill District Homewood Brad
Rankin Swissvale Hawkins Village Prospect Terrace Homestead Bracken
Tarentum Harrison Township Mckees Rocks Stow Township Larimer Ga
Heights St Clair Village Arlington Heights Wilkinsburgh Lower Hill Midd
SPECS Research was funded by a grant (B5098)
Terrace Aliquippa PI (2005-2009)
Addisonthe of Pittsburgh Foundation, Stephen J. Bagnato,Lincon-Lemington Highlands Upper Hill Sto-
Heinz Endowments to Children’s
Liberty Highlands South Side Hill District Homewood Braddock Rankin
Research Report Authors:
Hawkins Village Prospect Terrace Homestead Brackenridge Tarentum H
In particular, SPECS extends much appreciation to Marge Petruska,
Heinz Endowments for her vision, Garfield Heights St Cla
TownshipofMckees Rocks Stow Township Larimer creativityFamilies program of the
STEPHEN J. BAGNATO, Ed.D., NCSP
Professor Pediatrics & Psychology
Senior Program Director, Children, Youth &
over the years, and
ArlingtonSPECS for Pre-K CountsWilkinsburgh Lowercare and education.
Director, Early Childhood Partnerships
Hill Middle Hill Addison Terrace A
commitment to quality and rigor in both research and practice in
Lincon-Lemington Highlands Upper Hill Sto-Rox East Liberty Highlands
Side Hill ResearchPh.D., NCSPHomewood Braddock Rankin Swissvale Hawkins Villag
Early Childhood Partnerships
Terrace Homestead Brackenridge Tarentum Harrison Township Mckees
Manager, SPECS for Pre-K Counts
FORGING INNOVATIVE UNIVERSITY-COMMUNITY LINKAGES
Larimer Garfield Heights St CHILDREN &Village Arlington Heights W
Township Medicine and Education
Schools of FOR Clair PROFESSIONALS IN AUTHENTIC SETTINGS
LowerUniversity ofMiddle Hill Addison Terrace Aliquippa Lincon-Lemington High
Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh
Visit www. Side Hill District Homewood
Hill Sto-Rox East Liberty Highlands South earlychildhoodpartnerships.org
HOI SUEN, Ph.D.
report and related Terrace Homestead
Rankin Swissvale Hawkins Village Prospectresearch reports or contact Dr. Stephen J. Bagnato Bracken
to explore ECP core programs and to download the SPECS for PKC
Distinguished University Professor
Tarentum Education Harrison Township Mckees Rocks Stow Township Larimer Ga
directly at email@example.com
Penn St Clair
Heights State University Village Arlington Heights Wilkinsburgh Lower Hill Midd
Addison Terrace Aliquippa Lincon-Lemington Highlands Upper Hill Sto-
@ 2009 Early Childhood Partnerships, SPECS Evaluation Team, University of Pittsburgh Design by Third Planet Communications | www.333planet.com
Liberty Highlands South Side Hill District Homewood Braddock Rankin